Applying Formalism perspective to “The Parrot in the Cage”
Written by Lekhnath Paudyal, translated by Laxmi Prasad Devkota
I want to start out by stating the cliché – “no interpretation is the final interpretation”. I hope this note is helpful for the students of Bachelors level studying the book “Adventures in English”. I have tried to analyze (critique) this poem through the lens of “formalism” however I added my own perspectives as well.
Form of the poem
The poem is a dramatic monologue. The parrot laments its life, its condition inside the cage, shares its story of pain and loss and separation from the near ones. Through the parrot’s words, we get a snapshot of its temperament and character. We also get insights on its thought – how it regrets its fate and how it bemoans his imprisonment – to the fate and to the god. Through the parrot’s word, we may understand how the parrot is merely surviving in the hopeless dungeon and how it has somehow accepted its fate and destiny.
Summary of the poem
The parrot is trapped inside the cage and even in its dream, it finds no respite. It thinks about its parents and relatives living in a forest. It has no one around to share its agonies. With a lump in its sore throat, sometimes it cries and sometimes it jumps in madness.
It recalls how it used to fly and wander around the forest, eating wild fruits. But, now Fate has tricked it into the cage. There’s no more cool water, no more cool shades and no more delicious fruits. They are like dreams and the only thing that remains is fear.
Its parents must be missing it, they must be waiting, and bewailing but Fate has separated them. Instead, it sees enemies all around even when it is inside the cage.
It has tried to break the cage open and fly away but its beak is now blunt, wings and feet are cramped and it feels a sense of defeat. All it can do is play along the whims of its master, and prattle and chatter. Shocked and puzzled, it even thinks ending its life as well.
Even when its throat is dry, it must prate, it must chatter. If it doesn’t, its masters threaten it by brandishing a cane. It has to chatter on.
Such is the parrot’s life. It is forced to respond to callers. It is forced to speak even when it doesn’t want to, even when it can’t. In the forest, it loved talking, but here talking is all but cruel pleasure.
It then curses god for giving it the power of speech and reasoning. Because those are the reasons for his parents are grief, and for his captivity. But it still prays to the god and asks for mercy.
In the end, the parrot tells how the world is hostile to fair virtues and how there are exploitation of one’s talent. And it prays to god, not to let anyone have the life of a parrot.
Literariness in the poem:
The poem consists of 24 stanzas, each containing four lines with aabb, ccdd, eeff pattern. The lines do not have any metrical consistency.
The poem starts with a very strange metaphor – the parrot is compared as a twice-born child. The parrot used to have a free and wandering life in the forest, which was its first life. Now, the parrot is trapped inside the cage and is forced to live a life of a prisoner. Even though we normally associate ‘birth’ as a new positive beginning but for the parrot his second birth is nothing but a curse.
Similarly, a twice born child could signify dual life as well, one that of the parrot and the other of the poet himself.
Through out the poem, Fate is repeated constantly. The parrot blames the fate for somehow tricking it parrot into the cage. Fate has been portrayed as “beguiling”, “oppressor” and “strange”. The parrot is constantly grumbling about its fate and thinks its natural gift of speaking as the reason for it captivity.
c. Foregrounding – through deviation
This is a classic example of how literary language deviates from the normal everyday language. Many lines deviate from the normal grammatical structure of English language. For instance:
My parents and relations that there are,
Do in a forest corner dwell afar.
What sort of fellow is this tiny life?
How come he here? What food and of which type,
Takes he within this cage? There’s none to know.
And so my heart must tingle in my woe.
The poem also deviates in style is some sense because of the use of so many archaic English words and expressions like thou, thy , giv’st and so no. This is something not familiar in English poems by Nepali poets.
d. Images, Sensory details
Line 10 has a very strong sensory appeal:
At times I feel a corpse, my spirit flies
The word ‘corpse’ produces a very cold and lifeless feeling with which one can empathize the state of the parrot.
Parrot is known for its mimicry, it can imitate human sounds. So in some ways, parrots are considered clever, witty and quite vocal as well. And, we can see parrots kept inside a wire-cage in many households.
So the parrot in the poem is clearly a symbol of a person who has been captured and kept in the prison. The cage represents prison. The person, with the power of speech and reasoning, must have spoken against the oppressors. Consequently, he is imprisoned and now everyone is mocking at him.
Having the parrot as the symbol defamiliarizes the normal concept of man and his sufferings. With parrot as the symbol of a man who believes in fate and god, the poet was also able to bring ‘innocence’ in the foreground while distancing it away from sinful humanity.
Some critical thoughts:
The poem “The Parrot in the Cage” is a translated work of literature. It was written originally by Lekhnath Paudyal in Nepali, and it was translated to English by Nepal’s greatest poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota.
The big question is: how does Devkota’s translation affect the essence of the poem? So when we read a translation, do we inherently read the same original poem or something else?
As I read through the both versions, the Nepali and the translated, I felt that Devkota meticulously and very skillfully blended his own queerness to the ‘feel’ and ‘essence’ of Lekhnath’s version. Devkota wouldn’t have gone through the trouble for a mere translation.
(Well, where’s the interpretation based on the historical and contextual background? What about the author’s background?. What about the usual ‘four levels of interacting with the text’ approach? That, my friend, will be a completely different approach!)